You are here

Essays in Early American Architectural History

A View from the Chesapeake
Carl R. Lounsbury

BUY Paper · 288 pp. · 7 × 10 · ISBN 9780813932293 · $38.50 · Dec 2011

The essays in this collection represent the type of research that has reshaped our understanding of early American architecture over the past thirty years. Carl R. Lounsbury, three-time winner of the prestigious Abbott Lowell Cummings Award offered by the Vernacular Architecture Forum, traces the manner in which domestic, ecclesiastical, and public architecture illuminate the dynamics and aspirations of early American society. Architectural forms carried social meanings and gave physical shape to the way people perceived their place in the world and interacted with others during the colonial and early national periods. Lounsbury examines the emergence of regional building traditions and cultural landscapes as they evolved in response to the environment, social and economic conditions, technological capabilities, craft skills, and labor organization. In wide-ranging essays and in more detailed case studies, Lounsbury looks at a number of recurring issues, including English precedents for particular building types, the elusive meaning of regionalism as an organizational principle, the influence of Protestant theology on church design, and the precariousness of interpreting architectural history based solely on standing structures.

While the Chesapeake is the principal focus of much of this book, Lounsbury also considers building practices in Savannah, Charleston and the low country, the Middle Atlantic colonies, and New England. Chronologically, the essays span the early seventeenth century—the period of first European settlement of the East Coast—through the early nineteenth century when emerging national patterns transformed the design and ornamentation of American churches and meetinghouses. The concluding essays move from architectural history to historic preservation and address the effects of twentieth-century design aesthetics on the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.


Lounsbury has assembled a very original and significant contribution to the field of architectural studies in general and vernacular architecture in particular. This collection of essays is among the first to provide a clear and detailed picture of the architectural history of early America from the perspective of the commonplace and everyday and to make explicit the methodological approach that has overturned the traditional histories.

Donald Linebaugh, University of Maryland · author of The Springfield Gas Machine: Illuminating Industry and Leisure, 1860s-1920s

Talk about Johnny-on-the-spot. If there was ever a scholar who reliably turns up in the right places at the right time, it has to be architectural historian Carl Lounsbury. This attractive volume of his collected essays finds him Present at the Creation when the "new architectural history" moved south from New England to Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, present at the archaeological rediscovery of Jamestown, present to record the battered remains of historic Charleston in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, and, most of all, present for the latest round of research and restoration at Colonial Williamsburg. Reading these pages is to ride in the vanguard of early American architectural scholarship for the past forty years.

Cary Carson, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Lounsbury has an admirable command of his subject and he has in this volume brought together well-written and insightful essays that deal with the lessons we can learn from careful investigation of the built environment, not only that of colonial America but also that of other eras and places. The essays here will stand the test of time.

Clifton Ellis · JSAH

About the Author(s): 

Carl R. Lounsbury, Architectural Historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, is the author of The Courthouses of Early Virginia: An Architectural History and An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape (both Virginia).

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books